The next round of “celebrities versus paparazzi” just got interesting.
Actors and new parents Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have been on a crusade lately against paparazzi taking photos of children of celebrities — and more importantly, outlets that publish the pictures. Photographers trail A-listers’ children at school, on the playground, trick-or-treating, and go to great lengths to snap an exclusive pic and get a big paycheck. “Running red lights, honking, screaming stuff out the window,” Bell recently told “Entertainment Tonight,” while urging viewers to boycott outlets that run those photos. “It’s a James Bond movie where you are actually being hunted. It’s not okay when there’s kids around.”
They are the latest in a long line of furious Hollywood parents to take up this fight. Just last fall, after a tearful press conference starring Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry urging for stronger laws, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a California bill that would punish photographers “harassing” star’s kids, with penalties ranging from jail time to massive fines.
But this time, it’s a little different because some tabloids — the ones that practically print money from publishing photos of celebs and their families — have publicly spoken out to join the celebrity kid photo ban, effectively cutting off paparazzi’s motivation to take photos that could be worth big bucks. Over the past week, “Entertainment Tonight,” People magazine, “The Insider” and gossip site Just Jared have publicly declared that they will not publish pictures of celebrity children without their parents’ consent.
“The editors at People have always been careful when dealing with photos of kids, but in the past few months our sensitivity has been significantly heightened,” editor Jess Cagle wrote in a letter to readers. “And our editorial practices have changed accordingly.”
— dax shepard (@daxshepard1) February 25, 2014
What does that actually mean? Well, they only won’t publish the photos if — and that’s a big if — the parents aren’t okay with it. Red carpets, public events, new baby photos that parents approve, tweets and Instagrams taken by mom or dad: Those are still fine to publish. Plus, if the child is a public figure (i.e. Jaden or Willow Smith), that’s fair game too.
It’s a tricky line to walk, as Cagle points out: “There’s always the tough balancing act we face when dealing with stars who exploit their children one day, and complain about loss of privacy the next.” True: It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for a wealthy starlet (who could easily afford a babysitter) constantly taking her kids places that paparazzi are known to stake out, and then chastise photographers for doing their jobs.
But why are publications speaking out now? Basically, it’s in their favor to stay on the good side of celebrities; their livelihood depends on it. Plus, Bell and Shepard (who have a 10-month-old daughter) are a new sort of modern-tech Hollywood power couple, the ones who get a lot of attention when their tweets reach millions, and also have A-list friends with a lot of influence. “I have had prominent celebrity friends tell me that their child has gotten into the car after a scary airport experience with 40 guys and said, Why are those men trying to kill us?” Bell said during the interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” the first outlet to join forces with Bell and Shepard.
The couple listed off their famous friends who would boycott entertainment outlets if they continued to publish unapproved photos of children (some of whom are parents and some who don’t have kids of their own): Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Michelle Williams, Katie Holmes, Scarlett Johansson. “Bradley Cooper will not stop and give an interview to E! If they are under their current policy,” Shephard said to “ET.”
“Entertainment Tonight” boasted about being the ones to lead the charge, and said sister site “The Insider” had come to the same conclusion after meeting with Bell. Although it’s tough to imagine Perez Hilton or TMZ taking the same stance (because when have they been without shame?), popular gossip site Just Jared also announced it would no longer be “posting photos of children of public figures without consent.”
“All of the paparazzi shots of kids playing at the park, catching a flight at the airport, and walking to school will be off limits,” wrote site editor Jared Eng, even creating a hashtag for the occasion: #NoKidsPolicy. “Exceptions to the rule include consensual photos like public figures with kids on the red carpet, at sports games and concert venues, and pictures shared directly via social media.”
— Kristen Bell (@IMKristenBell) February 25, 2014
While the entire Hollywood media tries to figure out the new rules in the social media age (if Jessica Simpson Instagrams a picture of her toddler playing outside, but it’s in public and paparazzi snap photos of the same thing, where does that fall?), it will be fascinating to see if the other tabloids fall in line. While they get immensely important page views thanks to people’s obsession with celebrity kids, it may not be worth cutting off access if, indeed, Bradley Cooper would skip them in a red carpet line.
In an interview last month on “Today,” Bell and Shepard again urged that this isn’t about them — they made the choice to be in the spotlight and have a public career, but children shouldn’t be punished for their parents. And while it’s fine if mom and dad want to post a photo on Twitter of their baby being cute, it’s another thing when the media takes things into their own hands.
“I would draw a distinction between a parent taking a picture of their child in their home while playing and putting it on Twitter, than five strangers jumping out of your bushes,” Shepard said at the time. “You’re in control in one situation, in another situation you have zero control.”
“It’s all how the child is affected,” Bell said. “That’s the bottom line.”